MAGA DOWN: RNC CHAIR OUT
The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, has told former President Donald J. Trump she is planning to step down shortly after the South Carolina primary on Feb. 24, according to two people familiar with the plans.
Mr. Trump is then likely to promote the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, Michael Whatley, as her replacement, according to several people familiar with the discussions. Under the arcana of the committee’s rules, however, Mr. Trump cannot simply install someone, and a new election must take place.
Ms. McDaniel has faced months of pressure, a campaign from Trump-allied forces to unseat her and growing dissatisfaction and anxiety in the Trump camp about the strained finances of the R.N.C. as the general election cycle begins early.
Mr. Trump likes Mr. Whatley for one overwhelming reason, according to people who have discussed him with the former president: He is “a stop the steal guy,” as one of the people described him. He endorses Mr. Trump’s false claims about mass voter fraud and Mr. Trump believes he did a good job delivering North Carolina, a 2020 swing state, to him.
Mr. Whatley has baselessly claimed that election security efforts from Republicans in North Carolina stopped Democrats from cheating. He is also currently the general counsel at the Republican National Committee and has endorsed efforts to develop new voting laws.
Mr. Trump and his associates have made focusing on election security a signature point they plan to push in a general election. There has been no evidence of widespread fraud related to the 2020 voting, and Mr. Trump’s allies lost dozens of court challenges. Mr. Trump has told associates that he thinks the R.N.C. needs to spend more money on “election integrity” in the 2024 race. Mr. Trump’s team is also focused on hiring teams of poll watchers, which the North Carolina G.O.P. did during the midterms in 2022.
Mr. Trump has complained about the R.N.C. election efforts as insufficient, even as the party has poured resources into creating a full-time “Election Integrity Department,” which has been involved in 77 lawsuits in 23 states, according to the party.
Ms. McDaniel and Mr. Trump met at Mar-a-Lago on Monday. He posted on his social media website, Truth Social, shortly after their meeting, all but declaring that changes are coming. In the post, he described her as “my friend” and said she was “now Head of the RNC, and I’ll be making a decision the day after the South Carolina Primary as to my recommendations for RNC Growth.”
Ms. McDaniel had been considering leaving before the end of her term for some time, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. And despite animosity toward Ms. McDaniel from some of Mr. Trump’s closest allies, he has been uncharacteristically gentle as he has begun to acknowledge her imminent departure in public comments.
“I think she knows that,” Mr. Trump told the right-wing media site Newsmax in an interview that ran shortly after his meeting with Ms. McDaniel, when asked if it was time for her to step aside. “I think she understands that.”
A press officer for the Republican National Committee did not respond to requests for comment. A senior adviser to Mr. Trump, Jason Miller, said in a statement, “Any speculation beyond the president’s post on Truth is just that — speculation.”
The R.N.C. is especially focused on turnout efforts and fund-raising. Mr. Trump has twice before had a campaign that worked with the committee. The first was a forced partnership after he became the surprise nominee in 2016 and the second was during the 2020 race when his team allocated key functions to the R.N.C. This time, the Trump team is expected to try to essentially take over the committee in a way that it never did before.
Ms. McDaniel’s abilities in raising money have undoubtedly been complicated by Mr. Trump’s own behavior, both while he was president and since he left office. Many major donors recoiled at the former president’s efforts to thwart the transfer of power after the 2020 election and at his various legal travails since departing office.
Behind the scenes, there has been lobbying for the party chairmanship even before an opening became public. And election-year staff changes have been expected at the committee for a while.
Mr. Trump’s influence on the party is not absolute. Last year, he had endorsed Mr. Whatley as co-chairman, but Mr. Whatley withdrew after trailing Drew McKissick, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. Mr. Trump also endorsed Joe Gruters for R.N.C. treasurer, but Mr. Gruters lost in 2023.
That loss, however, came when Mr. Trump was in the early stages of running again for president, not on the cusp of securing the nomination, when party officials are likely to be more deferential.
Mr. McKissick is now the R.N.C.’s co-chairman (the party rules designate one male and one female co-chair). He spoke with Mr. Trump in recent days and expressed his interest in the job of chairman if Ms. McDaniel were to leave, according to three people briefed on his thinking.
Several prominent Republican activists have begun lobbying against potential replacements as co-chairwoman. For instance, Laura Loomer, a far-right activist who supports Mr. Trump, is publicly opposing Jessica Patterson, the chair of the California Republican Party, for that position.
Charlie Kirk, the founder of the influential group Turning Point USA, who has lobbied publicly to remove Ms. McDaniel, suggested last week in an interview that some Trump family members — including Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law — could be potential picks for party leadership posts.
On Tuesday, the chief of staff to the Republican National Committee, Mike Reed, announced his departure in an email to staff. The timing was coincidental. He had accepted a new position in the private sector months ago.
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